Biggest Stories From Black Friday '09

By Katie Adams | December 02, 2009 AAA
Biggest Stories From Black Friday '09

Named for the one-day start of a hopefully profitable ("in the black") holiday season, retailers know that they have a lot riding on the 24 hours following Thanksgiving. According to ShopperTrak, Black Friday sales typically account for 6% of a retailer's overall seasonal revenue. With double-digit unemployment, a weak economic outlook and credit card companies slashing credit lines, Americans have indicated they would spend less on holiday shopping this year and that has made retailers nervous. (For further explanation of Black Friday, read our FAQ, What is Black Friday?)

Retailers hoped that recession-weary shoppers would take a break from their budgeting and get holiday-season sales off to a brisk start. They began setting up displays early (around Halloween in many cases), and slashing prices on big-name merchandise. But for all the bargains and advertising blitz, ShopperTrak's preliminary sales data revealed that retailers' hopes may not be realized; shoppers spent a mere 0.5% more than last year. Here's the breakdown on this year's Black Friday big stories.

Retailers Eagerly Slashed Prices
To help end the year on a higher note than last holiday season retailers advertised more sales than in 2008. According to ShopLocal, Black Friday sale offers increased by 13% this year. That came on top of an already unusual number of deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, with 16% more retail offers during the period from November 1 – 23.

Advertising Began Early
To ensure that shoppers would come out many chain stores advertised their Black Friday sales earlier than in years past. Best Buy, Walmart, and Target advertised their "doorbuster" deals and discounts more than a week in advance.

Stores and Sites Opened Early
Instead of waiting to open at 6:00 a.m. a number of stores opened at midnight or even earlier - on Thanksgiving day - to get foot traffic moving. The mega-bookseller Borders got a 48-hour jump by launching their Black Friday member preview sale in-store on Wednesday, November 25 and QVC kicked off its holiday weekend Thanksgiving night with "The New Black Friday" programming event. The early-opening strategy worked well for Disney stores, with President Jim Fielding forecasting that they will "continue to be committed to it (opening early on Black Friday) for the foreseeable future."

Consumers Pre-planned Online
To ensure they got the best deals shoppers spent more time online planning their shopping before. ShopLocal, a subsidiary of Gannett Co., Inc. reported a "record-breaking 27% traffic increase to top retailers' online sites" in advance of Black Friday. ShopLocal, which helps deliver top retailers' digital promotions to consumers online, said site usage peaked Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. with consumers logging more than 12.7 million page views before heading out in the wee hours to bag bargains.

Online Shoppers Spent More
The real Black Friday story this year may be that retailers should focus on their online customers. According to web analyst firm Coremetrics online shopping showed healthy growth: web-based buyers bought more items this year (5.4 items vs. 4.6 last year) and spent 35% more this Black Friday than last year ($170.19 per order compared to $126.04 last year.)

"Cocooning" Shoppers Stuck with TV
People continued the general recessionary trend of home-based entertainment, with multimedia retailer QVC reporting its largest Black Friday ever. Shoppers ordered more than $32 million in merchandise from QVC, a 60% increase over last year's Black Friday total.

Digital Couponing Is in Style
Responding to the rise of budget-conscious consumers, Black Friday-specific online coupon and bargain comparison sites and microsites saw enormous traffic, including Black Friday Ads, BlackFriday info, GottaDeal.com, and Dealtaker.com.

Hamsters were Hot
The hottest kids' toys for Christmas 2009 are the electronic Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters. Major retailers sold out quickly in store and online, including toy titan ToysRUs.com.

Apple Gave a Little Love
Apple spread holiday cheer a little early, making more than 50 iPhone apps downloadable for free. By searching the application indexer at the iTunes App Store you can still find numerous free or deeply discounted Apps.

Low Inventory = Empty Shelves
After having to slash prices by 70 – 80% just to get goods off the shelves last year, retailers have cut back on in-store inventory to reduce the potential cost of carrying unsold merchandise. The result was shelves emptying quickly – even online. Wal-Mart.com was already out of numerous midnight sale items by 12:30 a.m.

Security Measures were Stepped-Up
After last year's Wal-Mart stampede in Long Island, New York that led to the death of an employee, retailers were ready to respond quickly to unruly crowds. Wal-Mart worked to ensure that no such events would recur this season by expanding hours (24 hours for most sites), and creating "store-specific plans … in consultation with leading safety experts in the sports and entertainment industries." When trouble occurred no time was lost. The Upland, California Wal-Mart had to call the police and close early when shoppers began fighting over Black Friday bargains. Police arrived just before 3:00 a.m. to clear the store, ushering shoppers back to the parking lot to cool off and then helped store employees re-open at 6:00 a.m.

Electronics Still King
This year consumers braved cold temperatures and early morning hours primarily to cash in on deep discounted electronic items including the Wii console, nuvi GPS systems, the Apple iPod Touch, and digital cameras. QVC reported that the majority of its top sellers were electronics – The Sharper Image Entertainment Projector, the Nintendo Wii, and Olympus' 12 MP 5x Optical Zoom camera.

Sales on Consumer Staples Surged
While shoppers snapped up electronics, according to PriceGrabber.com the biggest category increases for Black Friday this year reflected consumers' more frugal nature.

Top 10 Spending Categories – Black Friday \'09 Increase in Sales from Black Friday \'08
Tires 118%
Freezers 104%
Washer/dryer combos 70%
Swings and bouncers 58%
HDTV replacement lamps 48%
Refrigerators 30%
Cell phones 26%
Men\'s boots 18%
Laptops 17%
PlayStation 3 Consoles & Accessories 12%

If you didn't hop online or brave the lines for your Black Friday deals, don't fret. Most retailers are extending their Black Friday deals. For example, online mega-retailer Amazon.com created "Black Friday Deals Week" which will advertise merchandise that matches or beats competitors' prices. The site will also add new deals every day during the week on hot items.

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